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The Children of God (2)

August 14, 2017

The Children of God (2)

 In our previous study, we introduced this brief text:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 5:1,2

 

 

 

The Apostle, by the Spirit of God, is calling upon the people of God to a life of love and whole-hearted commitment. In these two brief sentences, the very essence of our life calling as believers is laid before us.

We find here that this call to commitment is not delivered as a commanding officer might bark out so many orders to his troops. No, here we have an appeal from a brother, who is numbering himself as one with those to whom he makes his appeal. In earnestness, he is reaching out to us within the bonds of filial love — that love, which seals the relationship between a father and his children. Paul is speaking as a brother, his heart filled with a sense of his Father’s love. His entreaty is no less for himself than for his brothers and sisters to whom he is writing.

We considered in our last study that there are two facets of the redemptive work of God in His establishing this relationship. The first is generally referred to as the new birth,” or regeneration. We saw that the Bible teaches we are not by nature the children of God. By nature we are born as the fallen sons and daughters of Adam. We inherited his sinful nature, and under that guilt, which he bore in his rebellion.

We saw that if any were ever to be considered children of God, God, Himself must intervene. That intervention was in the form of redemptive grace. That act of God, whereby through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf, He accomplished once, and for all time, our redemption and deliverance; creating a new principle of life in us, a new creation.

The new birth, then, is the first work of God in establishing this new relationship of filial love with those whom He has chosen in Christ. The bulk of our continuing studies rest upon this foundation. We move now into a fuller consideration of the second aspect of God’s work, Adoption. Whereas we saw that by the new birth, we are given new natures; new life in Christ, by adoption we are given new names, being brought into the family of God in Christ.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  – Gospel of John 1:12

We, in fact, can say that adoption is the legal act of God in bringing these new born ones into His family as sons and daughters of faith. God, taking the rebel sons and daughters of Adam, “still-born” in their sins, breathing the new spirit of life into them by the spiritual new birth and granting to them the privilege to be called His own dear children.

In our last study, we sought to grasp and believe the biblical truth that this status of sonship is a present reality for us. If by faith you have believed on Christ, and his redemptive sacrifice on your behalf, you are a child of God. You have been granted a place of deep and abiding affection in God’s heart.

We must await the day when we shall be ushered into the fullness of His presence before we can fully understand and experience just how wondrous and pervasive that love is. Such is the nature of faith. Yet, do not think for a moment that His fatherly love for us is somehow less now, as He deals with our wayward ways. His love for us will not then be any more real and full than it is today. Today, He loves us fully, without reserve.

We must also know that we are not expected to wait until that day before we can have intimate access with our God. This is a privilege of our sonship, not one we can only earn by the merit of our obedience. To shy from this fatherly affection out of a sense of our unworthiness is not a sign of humility; it is disrespectful.

That attitude, which grovels in uncertainty and hesitancy before God’s throne, is a rejection of the love He has committed to us. It causes us to push aside the very nature and essence of the relationship God, Himself has established by the redemption that is in Christ. He draws us back, again and again to that place where we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Holy Spirit both implants this desire in us, and draws forth this cry from the deepness of our hearts. By this, He freshly reminds His children of the privilege given us in Christ.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Letter to the Hebrews 4:16

Now, as we move on to take up further aspects of the redemptive grace of our adoption into the family of God, I would like to offer a basic definition, which may help guide us in our continuing studies.

Adoption is that filial relationship established by God,

  • according to His own sovereign choice,
  • with those whom He has redeemed from a state of bondage,
  • and has given new life in Christ,
  • and has sealed through the gift of the Holy Spirit indwelling them,
  • and is composed of mutual responsibilities and privileges common to father/child relations.

In saying that the fundamental character, or nature of this relationship is that of intimate filial access, we have but touched its foundation. This is not the entirety of the relationship established in our adoption. Built upon the foundational principle of true, intimate filial love and unhindered access is the superstructure of the relationship: the specific responsibilities and privileges. These include both the responsibilities assumed by God toward His children in grace, and those, which God has charged his adopted children. That is, those which pertain to God, and those which pertain to us.

As we consider this 2-fold division, we will be doing so with reference to the responsibilities in the relationship. It is important to understand that while we speak of these responsibilities and corresponding privileges, those privileges are defined by the responsibilities. That is, as God discharges His responsibilities as our heavenly Father, we partake of them as our privileges in the relationship He has established. And, as amazing as it may sound, the same is true in a real sense of the privileges that God receives as we discharge our primary responsibilities to Him. This is the reciprocal nature of the relationship.

In our next study, we will begin to unfold more of what we find in God’s word regarding this unfathomable relationship.

 

– higherfragrance

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The Children of God (1)

August 13, 2017

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With this first post, I am launching a new blog series:

higherfragrance:

Faithful – In the Light

 

I have chosen this particular biblical topic because it has long been on my heart to explore it more deeply. Several lifetimes ago, in 1990, I had finally come to the completion of my studies at a private, non-degreed, four-year Academy established for post-graduate Ministerial studies.

           Overwhelmingly, my favorite courses were in Systematic and Biblical Theology. In our last semester, we had to choose a topic for our term papers. I chose the topic upon which this blog series is based, “Adoption.” Preparation for that paper affected me in such a profound and lasting way, that I have frequently returned to explore the topic further.

For over two decades now, my hope has been to finally come to the place where I am ready to write a book on the subject. You might say that in pulling together this series, I am finally making an attempt to take steps toward that goal.

I do hope you will both enjoy and be stirred, perhaps deeply, in investing the time to follow these posts. I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

– higherfragrance

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The Children of God  (1)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 5:1,2.

Intro to the Study

The Apostle, by the Spirit of God, is here calling upon the people of God to a life of commitment. This commitment to which we are called is within the bonds of filial love. The concept of filial love concerns that relationship, which exists between a father and his children. In the Bible, this relationship is, in its depth and strength, second only to the relationship established between a husband and wife.

In verse 1, when we are called “dear children,” literally, “children beloved,” there is laid before us a blessed reality. This reality forms one of the most foundational points of encouragement to the true child of God. It opens to us the unfathomable truth that the Lord God of heaven and earth has graciously condescended to look upon us in love – “beloved children.” Further, that this is not just any kind of love. No, this love, which God has purposed to lavish upon those whom He has chosen in Christ, is the love of a father for his children.

Considering the rich term, “beloved children,” in verse 1, this is really the starting point for understanding the injunction, “be followers of God.” So, we take up now the concept of “filial love” expressed in the term, “beloved children.” With every real relationship, there are certain responsibilities and privileges, which form its bond. The filial relationship we will be exploring is one that should be familiar to us.

However, it is a sad commentary upon the times we are living, that fewer and fewer people have any understanding at all of the concept. There seems to be so little real conception of what a father’s love consists, and what it is to be truly loved by a father, and in return for a child to fully love that father.

If we would understand the truth of this passage and how we are to respond in light of it, we must step back and consider the actual relationship of which it speaks. And so, we take up the topic of “Filial Love” as it is made plain in scripture. The first thing we need to notice is that the Bible addresses the subject under a broader category, or theme, that of “Adoption.”

There is actually a two-fold issue that must be reckoned with in studying the subject of “Filial Love;” the New Birth and Adoption. Considering the new birth, there is a fundamental truth taught throughout the Bible, which must be understood before the concept of the new birth makes any sense at all. Men are not the children of God by nature. When we are born, our linage traces back to our first father, Adam.

We are – all of us are, the sons and daughters of Adam. We have inherited his nature, passed from every father to every child, tracing back to the beginning. That nature, the core of what we are is consistently described and displayed throughout scripture in the worst possible of terms.

We come forth into this world with natures that are contrary to God and as rebels against His law. A little earlier in this letter to the Ephesians (2:1-3), Paul states it plainly, “…we were by nature children of wrath...” — that is, “children upon whom God’s wrath rested.” Entire sections of both the Old and New Testaments expose this hard fact. Also, as seen throughout the recorded history of the world, there is revealed that there is something  fundamentally, and seriously wrong in play.

“God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.“ – Psalm 53:2,3

We are not naturally the children of God. By our inheritance of the sinful nature and guilt of our father Adam, we are born with sinful natures. Also, by the sins that we actively commit, stretching back before our earliest recollections, we have and continue to compound our guilt and manifest our wicked natures. This is the dark backdrop to the biblical concept of the New Birth. All men are dead in their sins and are by nature children of sin. They are objects not of God’s love, but of His righteous wrath.

How is it then, that some among the children of Adam come to be called “the children of God?”

”He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – Gospel of John 1:10-13

The birth of which is spoken here is not the natural birth, nor is it by means of natural relations, such as being a child of a Christian parent, neither is it achieved by trying to clean up your act and becoming a new, better you. The birth referenced in this passage is the New Birth, sovereignly wrought by the will and power of God. God, taking those who are by nature children of wrath, born in sin, dead in their trespasses and sins, and creating a new principle of life in them.

Jesus later, in John’s Gospel declares, “Most assuredly, I say unto you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He goes on to declare, “Do not marvel that I say unto you, ‘You must be born again.’ Notice, He does not say, “you can be born again,’ or “you ought to be born again,” or that “If you so chose when you’re good and ready, you may be born again.”

He does not say that you can be, you ought to be, or that by your choice you may be. No, Jesus says, “Don’t be astonished that I say to you, that you must be…” For, if we comprehended but the smallest aspect of our natural condition and state before God, we couldn’t help but grasp that if we were ever to find favor with God, it must be by God taking the initiative. It must be by His power, it must be through His work, it must be by His creative act of bringing forth new life.

So, does this mean that God just reaches out from heaven and zaps us with this new life, and bamm (!) there I am, all brand spanking new? No, although it is through His power that new life is given, the first principle of that life is the opening of our eyes to the dark truth of our natural condition. This, creating a deep desire to be free of its deathly stench, gives rise to reach out in the faith, which He is working in us.

This is that faith, which is necessary for me to believe and embrace the message of new life. The gospel message, which announces the good news that Jesus, the Son of God, has taken the full penalty of our sin, and has fully extinguished that wrath which had personally rested upon me. It is God’s work from beginning to end, including drawing forth from me, my willing confession of faith, which He inspired in me, as well as the repentance, which He requires of me.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  – Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 2:8-10

The New Birth, then, is the first work of God in establishing the brand new relationship of filial love with those chosen in Christ. Without understanding this, there is no clear path in grasping the truth of our being adopted into His family to be beloved sons and daughters. It was out of the corruption of our natural, orphaned state that he rescued us, breathed new life into us, cleansed and dressed us, and put our feet on a new path.

In our next study, we will move into the work of God in bringing us into His family, Adoption.

 

culture

June 7, 2016

 

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http://www.inc.com/marla-tabaka/the-5-hour-workday-how-to-increase-productivity-by-working-fewer-hours.html

         This interview with Stephen Aarstol (see the link) is quite interesting, though not necessarily in a positive or inspiring way…

 

The lead statement immediately captured my attention: “You may be paying your employees for an eight-hour day, but the truth is most of them are doing about two-three hours of real work, and just taking all day to do it.” Continuing the thought, it is stated that “a ton of time is squandered” and “productivity is being faked.”

Interestingly, the solution for this highly dysfunctional business environment was to cut the employees workdays back to 5 hours. The challenge to the staff was, “With increased pressure to perform, employees had to teach themselves to be highly productive. If they couldn’t do it they would be fired…” The story goes on to demonstrate how the team accepted and rose to the challenge, and loved the results.

As I read through the interview, a single thought kept hitting me, how in the world did such a counter-productive business culture evolve? How could it come to the point where it was presumed that “most” of the employees were cheating the company out of 5 to 6 hours of productivity a day?

Of course, that thought was quickly replaced with several others. Where was the management team as this culture developed? How was it possible for there to be widespread faking of production records? Were performance reviews being regularly conducted, and if so, how was it that these people kept their jobs? How was it that the management team kept their jobs? How did the company even stay in business?

There is, of course no way to get to the bottom of those questions with regard to this company’s history. And, I’m certainly glad for them that they were able to turn it around and become the highly successful company they are today. However, I would like to consider some generic thoughts regarding caustic working environments that foster this type of widespread production loss and dishonest reporting.

I would like to believe that a company’s culture reflects the goals and expectations of its primary stakeholders and management team. Where there is a clearly communicated expectation of excellence, supported by a team of committed managers and leads, there will be a corresponding culture that is pervasively marked by excellence. For those who are unable or unwilling to perform to task, there are remedial steps that will be enacted to lead them up, or out.

It is also clear that a company’s stated culture must be aggressively nourished for it to be maintained long-term. For whatever reason, once the management begins to accept a downward slide in the ethics of any in their charge, the entire culture can become at risk. It could be that the overwhelming majority of the staff believes the culture’s goal of excellence and a fair working environment. Yet, they start to see the downward slide being left unaddressed, and then begin to become discouraged.

When such a slide is first recognized, there are a lot of questions and issues that must be faced. The first, and most primary is, “Who are we? This is a return to the beginning: the mission statement, the culture, and the resulting work environment. The hard questions follow, but none of those really matter without honestly facing the first.

Perhaps the key (if there even is such a thing) is a periodic gathering of the primary stakeholders, management with some key lead staff to consider this primary question afresh. Honestly address successes and failures and the means necessary to keep the culture fresh, true and inspired. If the actual prevailing culture is representative of the company, what is more important than its nourishment and maintenance? To the degree that it is not, what could be more important than addressing it?

Your thoughts?

 

is there a path back?

May 25, 2016

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The tug of the familiar is always present, as are the memories of an earlier time. We connect with them in a much different way than we lived them…

 

The familiar was not always a comfortable place. It roughly intruded into my life, and forced itself upon me. I don’t really remember the struggle; I only remember that my resistance slowly became acceptance. It is now a safe place, where I know that I am always welcome. I find that I am reluctant to stray far, but I am somehow all right with that.

Nostalgia is a word we made up to distract ourselves from the present struggle. It provides us the means to look back safely on a time that was anything but safe as we experienced it. Those days were filled with uncertainty; we narrowly escaped them with our lives. Every bad choice we made led to another. We were learning as we went, but always the hard way. We can now laugh at these things, and derive a bit of needed courage from them, seeing that we did indeed survive them.

Although we experience a present sense of bearing from both the familiar and our nostalgic way of remembering earlier times, they are also personally limiting. They are made up of an uncertain alliance we have made with caution. That alliance is uncertain because there is no lasting friendship possible with caution. It offers simply a momentary suspension of time in order to force a decision on the next step.

We limit our possibilities, withdrawing into the familiar and building alliances with caution. Life is highly disruptive and laughs at our cautious ways. The path forward, however, doesn’t require throwing caution to the wind and forsaking the familiar. Caution is a tool in our hands, as we cut our way through unfamiliar terrain. What we have learned from the familiar assists us in our current struggle to understand our encounters along the way.

Although you and I are always feeling that slight tug upon us to settle in, is that really as safe a place as we imagine? We hear that gentle whisper to turn and retreat to earlier times, but is there really a path back? And even if there were, why would you want to go back there, seeing there is so much ahead?

 

heard any good stories lately?

March 11, 2016

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A good storyteller will always capture you.

It is likely that you won’t even realize that it is happening. At some point during the monologue you shift from simply hearing and begin seeing, feeling and experiencing the tale. A connection is made that you are not fully aware of until the story is finished.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the connection between the teller and the hearer is how we each contribute from our own experiences to the actual story. As the color of the sky is woven into the story, it is that striking, clear blue that has so often captured your eye, which you paint into the narrative. It is the lush green clover of your childhood experiences that covers the hills beyond. You have begun to discover the story together as each visual, sensual and emotional aspect of the scene unfolds. You are contributing as much to the story as the storyteller.

The story is new each time it is told, not because it has changed, but because it comes to life afresh only in the telling. Each person who hears, also sees, feels and contributes to its freshness. The storyteller senses that contribution, and incorporates that energy into the story that has been repeated so many times before. The story does not change, but it has been born one more time.

Storytelling has been called a rare art in its purest sense; an art that is expressed and given life and breath through gifted individuals. This may be true, but that is not the whole story. A story is given life only in the telling and hearing of it, as each infuse their unique life breath into its narrative.

I believe that this is what provides storytelling the ability to reach that deep place inside which seems to long for its touch. This is how even the simplest of stories capture us, and with mere words, incite our emotions and imagination to participate in its unfolding.

In the truest sense, we are all storytellers, though not necessarily gifted ones. It is out of the deep well of our life experiences that we learn how to communicate and connect with others. We share from this store of learned lessons, sights, sounds and sensations. We long to connect and experience together our individual worlds. However recluse one might tend to become, that longing never loses its grasp. In the honest expression of that longing is created community.

Have you heard any good stories lately?

boxed

February 23, 2016

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Good afternoon, my name is James, and this is the box that used to confine me. You might be wondering why I still carry it around with me. Well, although I didn’t realize it then, as you can see, my box is quite small. This is where my story begins.

Earlier in my career, it was not at all uncommon for me to be drawn into risk assessment and creative brainstorming meetings. After a while I begin to notice that about midway through each of the meetings, someone would invariably say, “This is really important, and nothing we are coming up with is helping. We’ve got to start thinking out of the box to find a solution.”

Although I actively participated at least as much as everyone else, and usually came up with some pretty great ideas, this whole out-of-the-box thing began to weigh on me. What did it really mean? I started thinking, “How can I begin thinking outside of the box if I don’t even know what my box is?” That was it! I needed to study my box.

So, after carefully thinking it through, I realized “my box” was really just a metaphor that meant something like, “How I have been programed over time to consider, process and respond in the same way to the same stimuli.” That is, I have restricted the dimensions of my analytical and creative processes to a narrow furrow that stretches out before me in a straight line, or as some might call it, a rut.

I must apologize, though, as it seems I have inadvertently mixed my metaphors. We were speaking of boxes, not furrows. So, in returning, I think we can say that my box is really a box, with fixed dimensions, and there I was, comfortably sitting within it. We can also confirm that it has a lid. Everyone agrees that it is possible to poke your head out to look for solutions that cannot be found inside your box.

As I noted earlier, my box was pretty small. That was not a problem, though, as I was nice and comfy within it. Once I learned that I could peer out of it when necessary, I settled back and carried on as usual. That is, until my little box began to shrink.

In looking back, I now realize that every time I poked my head up to look for out-of-the-box solutions, it was not the box that shrank, it was me growing a little larger. This continued for some time, until I was finally so cramped that I concluded I could no longer stay in this box. I needed to build another one, a larger one.

I began construction, and of course, I used the materials from my little box to get started. This is when it happened. I found myself standing outside of the box looking down at it. I noticed it was made mostly of very sound, sturdy materials. Of course, there were weak points, especially where the sides fit together. But that is not really what struck me.

Where did we come up with the idea that we are all confined in our little boxes, or that these boxes serve us quite well until something really important confronted us? As I stood there, I thought, these so-called boxes were not designed to confine us; neither are they the fixed dimensions that really define us. They are constructed of ideas, truths, aspirations and experiences that over time, we have put to the test. They are substantial and sound, and the principles that we draw from them have aided us greatly as we have made our way down the path to growth and the process of maturation.

Is it not, then the metaphor that creates the conflict? Who wants to live tucked inside a box, even if it does have a lid? That sounds more like an end-of-life place to repose. What if we reconsider the concept of the box as really being that set of personal presuppositions (personal beliefs that I have come to accept as foundational) that can, but do not have to restrict my thoughts, vision, and imagination? Ah, yes, now we are getting somewhere.

There is nothing wrong with adopting personal presuppositions. They are the natural, healthy byproduct of living, learning and growing. Only when they are left to harden and encrust around us as barnacles do they become constricting. Rather, they are designed to form a living pathway to inspire aspirations of deeper understanding, and fresh, imaginative and creative applications of that understanding.

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So, here I am, standing beside my little box. It is a reminder to me that the path before me is overflowing with opportunities for growth. My understanding is being stretched beyond its limits daily, and my dreams and aspirations ride along a path that is refreshed daily.

Oh, yes, and now when I am prodded with that oft repeated line, “We’ve got to start thinking out of the box to find a solution”, I respond, “There is no box.”

building community

February 17, 2016

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“If you build it, they might come. Those that do, might continue to come, but only if they like what you built. However, if you invite them to build it with you, some will come, then others, and others because they are sure to like what you are building together.”  -jb